3. Differentiation – The teacher acquires and uses specific knowledge about students’ cultural, individual intellectual and social development and uses that knowledge to adjust their practice by employing strategies that advance student learning.
The third standard of the Internship Performance Criteria emphasizes the importance of differentiation. It is important for teachers to be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of each student so that instruction can be tailored to groups of students on a similar level or even individual students. Every student is at a different intellectual level and differentiation allows for better instruction geared to exactly what the student needs. If teachers simply teach the same content to all students, regardless of ability, interest, or cultural awareness, students may be left behind.
A few weeks ago during my internship, I used the Teachers College Reading Level tests to determine the current reading level for several student in my class. This assessment analyzes a students’ reading ability, including oral reading rate, fluency, and comprehension. My mentor and I have used this information in order to create four book club groups, each at a different reading level. Blair, Rupley, and Nichols (2007) assert that “effective teachers use assessment to select instructional strategies appropriate to the desired students’ learning outcomes in relation to the students’ existing reading capabilities” (p 434). These different book clubs allow us to differentiate our instruction for groups of students.
I am currently leading two of the four book clubs: one group is reading about Sojourner Truth and the other is reading about Elijah McCoy (Figure 1). Each time we meet, students bring their reading notebooks and texts with them and the group shares what they learned from the reading assignment. By examining each student’s notebook (Figure 2), I can quickly tell which students have read the assigned pages from the text and which ones haven’t. Most recently, the assignment included reading four pages of the text and taking notes. However, several students had only written notes from the first two pages and did not have enough class time to finish reading the assignment. I plan on using this knowledge to only assign up to two pages of independent reading and note-taking as opposed to four.
Now that I have the awareness of the level of each student in each of the book clubs, I can better determine how big of a reading assignment to give them to complete before the next book club meeting. I have learned that dividing a classroom into groups of reading levels can be an effective way to differentiate reading instruction. I realize that some students in the class may be reading at a much higher level than others, so it is important for teachers to recognize and be aware of those differences so that we can appropriately challenge students to reach for the next level in their zone of proximal development. In the future, I hope to build on my growing differentiation skills and transfer my knowledge to other subject areas.
Blair, T. R., Rupley, W. H., Nichols, W. D. (2007). The effective teacher of reading: Considering the “what” and “how” of instruction. The Reading Teacher, Vol 60, 5, 432-438.